Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

JULY 26, 2014

GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

A thought occurred to me during The Purge: Anarchy, after I realized that it barely counted as a horror movie - the concept COULD lend itself to a variety of genres. They've covered home invasion horror and now urban thriller (it's more like Judgment Night than the average horror movie), and I could easily come up with comedic entries (stick the Griswolds in the thick of it in an area where crimes are less murder-y), drama (modern Romeo & Juliet or Hatfield & McCoys scenario with the two families stuck together during the Purge? ), or even sci-fi since it's already taking place in the (near) future - what happens 50 years from the first Purge?

Indeed, the biggest complaint folks had about the first film is that they established this fascinating scenario that could be the backdrop for any number of stories, and opted to go with a home invasion movie that only fleetingly invoked the concept - what a waste! Thankfully, returning writer/director James DeMonaco listened, and with a little more money to spend (still much less than any other movie playing on 3000 screens right now) he set his sequel on the streets, where the concept never once leaves the equation. Our quintet of heroes (a couple, a mother and daughter, and The Punisher, essentially, played by Frank Grillo) are always on the move, always under threat from both their pursuers (which include the masked folks they highlight in the trailer to make the film look more horror-ish than it really is) and their perceived saviors.

One of the best sequences in the film involves the group entering the home of one of their friends, where things just seem "off" right from the start. The friend keeps snipping at her sister, and the sister is very mean to her husband, while their parents are overly nice. You know SOMETHING is going to happen, and the fact that there's not much anyone can do about it elevates the suspense, keeping the tension nice and high despite the fact that they're off the streets and safe from snipers and such. DeMonaco also paints a bigger picture of what folks do on the night - there's a (unintentional?) big laugh moment when we see a good ol' boy plop himself on his roof with a six pack and a sniper rifle - this is just how he celebrates. Another pair of Purgers give a respectable nod to the driver of an armored truck that's going about its own thing, only to get mowed down by a guy with a .50 cal in the back of it.

However, that's it. I guess we can assume that the folks who might want to use the occasion to rob a Best Buy or steal new cars to replace their junky old Chevys (totally just theoretical ideas, not remotely what I'd consider if the Purge was real, of course) are too scared to go outside what with all the murderers, but since it's definitely a "Let's use the occasion to wipe out poor people" affair, would the traditional Purgers (the ones who didn't take the time to install a .50 cal in the back of their truck) be OK with a middle class guy just trying to embellish his home theater for free? Is there a "Purge code"? On that front, DeMonaco fails yet again to really dive into the nitty gritty about his scenario - it's fun to ask questions about Purge logic on Twitter to make your followers laugh ("Can I file my taxes that day and cheat?"), but some are actually legit issues that might arise.

For example, near the end of the film a major character is shot, but doesn't die - the Purge ends before the shooter can take him out definitively. However, he's injured badly, and has to be raced to the hospital - if he died, does the shooter have to answer for his crime, since he died after Purge hours? And they still haven't explained what happens to people with legitimate health emergencies during the time - do pregnant women going into labor have to just wait it out? And before you say "If they were that close to their due date they'd just go to the hospital early" - my wife delivered three weeks early, after a labor so mild she considered going into work before we learned what was actually happening. Shit happens, can't always plan ahead.

On that note, other people have questioned the logic of why the young couple (Matt Saracen and Nikki of Nikki and Goddamn Paulo fame) was even out as the Purge was about to start, but I just assume the world has a law of sorts instructing folks to carry on as normal on that day (March 21, 2023 would be a Tuesday/workday, for the record). You know in Deep Impact when Morgan Freeman is like "A comet might hit us in two years, until then you have to go to work and pay your bills"? Something like that - you can't just stop your presumably important job because you were worried about the Purge. Also they're on their way to his sister's, and we see that some folks have automatic (expensive) barricades for their doors and windows (like Ethan Hawke's family in the first one) while others need to manually board them up with plywood - it's safe to assume his sister's place was well fortified and thus safer than their own, prompting the 11th hour trip after work that day.

I do question the logic for Grillo's character, however. I guess this counts as a spoiler as it's not until the final reel that he lays it all out, but it's been made pretty obvious by pictures on his wall, a visit from his ex-wife, etc - Grillo plans to murder the guy that killed his son. But even though he knows where the guy lives (he even disabled one of the guy's barriers two weeks earlier) and has no other Purge business, he waits until it starts to leave his house and drive there. Why didn't he just hang out in the neighborhood, pop the guy the second the Purge began, and then go home to be safe for the rest of it? I know the answer is "Then there'd be no movie" but since we don't know much about his character (he's not even named) we can't just make assumptions to explain his behavior. If we knew he was a lawyer and had a trial that day preventing him from getting a move on, fine - but there's nothing to pin it on, and thus it seems like a plot hole. It's weird that DeMonaco began his career strictly as a screenwriter, as he is seemingly better at directing (or trusting a DP) than writing; the film looks great (if a bit dark at times) but a lot of the dialogue will make you cringe, as many folks speak in broad strokes and as if the other characters in the room weren't just as aware of what was happening. Hearing characters say things like "Those guys are still after us!" reminded me of watching a TV show where characters need to remind us of what was going on after the commercial break.

But logic/dialogue issues aside, it's a pretty good movie, and by embracing the actual Purge it comes out as superior to the first. The ensemble nature is a good idea, pitting many of the non-Grillo characters as fair game to get killed, and even without much backstory for any of them it's easy to see that they're all from different walks of life, allowing for easier audience sympathy than the first film had ("oh no, not this rich family!"). The built-in possibility for endless sequels makes it easier to forgive all of the questions an audience might have, as you can just assume they'll answer it in the next one, and with the one attempt to tie it into the first film proving to be a dud (a character from the first shows up, and not a single person in the audience reacted), not to mention a roughly equal box office take (maybe even a bit higher) I think it's safe to assume they'll embrace the anthology aspect of it going forward.* This is great; as much as I love mythologies, following this or that person every time would box things in and keep us from getting the full spectrum of the event. What happens in rural areas? Or in prisons? I'd be bored watching Lena Headey's character or any of the survivors here heading to one of those places and giving a "I can't believe this is happening to me again!" thing.

I'd also be curious to see events from a Purger's POV, in the vein of Maniac or films like that. I know Grillo's character is one, but he's got a specific target and seemingly no desire to just randomly kill folks along the way just for target practice or something. With the budgets so low on these things and the concept itself seemingly drawing in crowds (certainly wasn't star power or even much goodwill toward the first film), they can take those kind of risks and probably still earn a mint. It's basically what the Halloween series was supposed to be, but, you know, financially successful**. Hell they can even do a prequel and show the first Purge (this is the 6th, I think) - did everyone just jump right in, or were they a bit sheepish? "Can I REALLY just kill that guy and not go to jail?"

Let's put it this way - I ended up seeing the movie twice today (once at the regular AMC, and then again when we went to a drive-in (!) and my wife wanted to stay after Lucy for the free 2nd feature, which was this) and I wasn't bored the second time. Sure, I didn't have some of the above issues after my first viewing, only noticing on the revisit, but if it more or less held my attention 9 hours after seeing it for the first time, I have to assume they're on the right track. They probably can't ever answer all of our questions (like the rules in Gremlins, they have to get things underway before we start asking the equivalent of "Well when is it NOT after midnight?"), but as long as they keep diving into what being in a Purge is actually like instead of using it as an excuse for a traditional genre film (like the first film), I'll keep coming back.

What say you?

*Until Purge Five: All In, where the characters from all previous entries join forces for a heist. Which would be legal.

**Halloween 4 "saved" the franchise, but did you know it actually made less money than the "bomb" 3rd film? Pretty funny.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Night School (1981)

JULY 11, 2014

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (BORROWED)

I don't know if we can ever get a definitive list of all the post-Halloween/Friday the 13th slashers from 1980-1982/3 - there were so damn many, and many of them independently released by distributors who are long since defunct - for every well known entry like My Bloody Valentine or The Burning, there are probably a half dozen To All A Goodnights (a Christmas slasher even an astute fan such as myself only heard about a few years ago). But I'll keep trying to see them all, and I'm happy to report I can finally cross Night School off my list, as it's been on my radar for years now. The reason I've been dodging it is simple - it's only available through Warner Bros "on demand" DVD service, which I find to be a ripoff as the titles are often 20 bucks and come barebones (maybe a trailer) on a disc that might not even play on your player model.

However my good friend Jared has no such bias, and has a similar "gotta see em all!" attitude, so I just borrowed his. Sucker!

As it turns out, it's a pretty decent entry in the slasherganza that elevated or marred the period, depending on your point of view. I will admit some Boston bias, but even if it was Chicago or whatever I'd still give it an extra point for being a rare metropolitan based slasher film - 99% of them stick to the woods, suburban areas, or a general single location (a school, hospital, whatever) but the killer here gets chased down major Boston streets, with dozens of people/potential victims around - plus you get a kill at the legendary New England Aquarium. We've all seen a head end up in a domestic fish tank, but a giant, multistory one with a big ass turtle nipping at the disembodied head as it floats to the bottom and terrifies an old lady and her grandson? Only in Night School, far as I know!

The non-isolated setting also means that the movie is slightly more logical than most slashers, and by that I mean there's a police presence. In fact the hero cop is the actual star of the movie - we're with him far more often than we are with any of the film's victims, most of whom only have a scene or two before their death scene (and they're all women - only one male is killed in the movie, and it's mostly by a cop's hand). It's actually more like a Giallo than an American slasher in that regard; there's no central "group" of characters per se, despite the "Night School" premise. Like Scream 2, the movie explains the connection between the victims before tossing it out - they're "all" students of this one dickhead Professor at the titular night school, but the next death after the cops figure that out is of a waitress who flirted with him.

It's because of this kill that the identity of the killer becomes painfully obvious, assuming you hadn't already figured it out. The movie makes the mistake of having the cop zero in on the professor and also introducing a weirdo busboy, so any intelligent viewer would know it couldn't be either of them... but that only leaves one other character as a legit choice, and even their motive is pretty clear. So it fails miserably as a whodunit, despite the best efforts (the killer drives a motorcycle and wears a face-covered helmet during the kill scenes, plus gloves and a leather jacket, making it impossible to even tell if it's a man or a woman), but still works thanks to the varied kill scenes (the opening one, on a merry go round, is fantastic) and unique-ish setting for this sort of thing (then again, all the Gialli took place in big cities too).

It's also got a few impressive sequences, such as a fun bit in the diner where we know a victim's head is SOMEWHERE in the kitchen but director Ken Hughes (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame!) teases it out for eternity. Is it in the giant soup pot? The fridge? On top of the fridge, where a box of melons falls down for good measure? There's also a pretty good chase scene, one that's kind of a cheat since the person being chased is actually the killer, but in context it works - another plus of the big city thing, it's actually reasonable that a budding killer might be targeted by the average city menace if they happened to be walking alone at night. Plus it has some little quirks, like the two blue collar construction guys who apparently want beef stew for breakfast, or the cop's partner, a man who is ostensibly a cop but never seems much interested in solving the case or even listening to ideas about who the killer may be. He also advises a perp in the backseat to "go on the windshield" when the man says he needs them to stop so he can pee.

And when they go to the red herring's apartment, he's got a hockey mask sitting there on his dresser. A casual horror fan will probably see this and assume it's a little nod to Jason - in fact it even got me for a second, but it's important to know that Night School came out before even the 2nd (baghead Jason) Friday, in 1981 (it actually has a 1980 copyright at the end) - the hockey mask didn't come along until Part 3 in 1982. Was Night School - with one of the least scary costumes in slasher history - an influence on the most iconic one of them all? Probably not, but it's still kind of weird that they have that mask sitting there, it's pretty much the only thing that sticks out in his entire apartment.

Another weird thing requires a SPOILER.... the killer not only goes free at the end, but the cop knows it! He confronts him/her and asks (via metaphor) if they're done killing, to which they say yes. And that's it! There's a final scene where it seems like the killer might go do him in just to tie up that loose end, but it's actually just his wacky partner playing a gag (another Giallo thing - inappropriately timed comic relief). If there was a Night School 2 I bet the killer and the cop would team up to find a new killer. Maybe this time it'd actually take place at the Night School (seriously, there's like one brief classroom scene and a couple of faculty offices, but that's the extent of the title's prominence), or we can find out how the cop fared with his girlfriend, who he has to cancel plans with to investigate the first murder... and then we never see her again. It's like she was supposed to be a target eventually but then they forgot all about her. Heh, what a goofy little movie. Have I mentioned the paint-based shower scene?

What say you?

P.S. The film was known as Terror Eyes in the UK and was on the Video Nasties list, so I was able to cross another one off on THAT list as well!

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Screening: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN

I know Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan wasn't the first entry in the series that I saw (I had seen 4-6, and I THINK Part 2 before), but it may be the one I have seen the most number of times. It was one of only two Fridays I had on tape as a kid, and the other was Final Chapter which I was too scared to watch alone, reducing my exposure until I grew a pair. But Manhattan I could handle - as I mentioned before, it made me more afraid of New York than Jason, as I was too young to understand that it was Vancouver (and also a goofy script). But it was just that: a tape - I have never gotten a chance to see it PROPERLY* on the big screen, so I'm happy to announce that it's the next HMAD screening at the New Beverly!

And it's the 25th anniversary to boot! We did New Blood last year for its own 25th birthday, and it was one of the more successful HMAD shows, so I vowed to do Manhattan - a film I like a lot more than New Blood - in 2014. Sure, it's no one's favorite entry, but I think it's better than it's given credit for, as so many people fixate on the "He's only in New York for 5 minutes!" (the timing varies depending on the complainer - the actual time is around 25 minutes) without bothering to acknowledge that he was on a giant cruise ship for the first hour! The whole appeal of putting Jason in a metropolitan city was that it was something different for him - I'm not sure why people seem to forget that a ship was a new environment as well. This gave him many new implements to use (sauna rock! guitar! antenna!), a wealth of victims (Jason gets one of his highest on-screen kills counts in this one - and his 2nd biggest overall after Jason X, since a ship full of anonymous students is sunk), and a welcome change of scenery - this is one of the very few entries in the series that can be identified instantly even by a casual fan.

It also marked some major milestones for the series. Most importantly, it was the first time an actor returned to play Jason - Kane Hodder was brought back, presumably because the producers realized he was the only good thing about New Blood ("in 20 years people will still defend this rubbish mainly because he looks so great!" is what they probably said), and even though this movie was not very successful he still got asked back for the next two installments. The series may never die, but I doubt we will ever again have an actor play Jason across four movies, so Kane will forever be the most prolific Jason. It was also the last entry to be called "Friday the 13th" until the remake, as the next few entries would be "Jason ____". Likewise, it was the last film for the original Paramount era of the franchise - after the film's less than desirable box office take, they opted to let New Line take over for the next 20 years or so (Paramount recently got the series back in exchange for giving Warner Bros a piece of Chris Nolan's Interstellar). If not for studios being willing to trade their properties around, this could have been the last we ever saw of the hockey masked psychopath.

But the series has endured, which is why these screenings tend to be pretty crowded - series that are long dead don't quite have the same pull as one that's still going, as old school fans who want to relive their opening night memories are joined by newcomers who were far too young (possibly not even born) when the film was released. As of now we have no definitive special guests (but 3 maybes!), but Q&A or not it's gonna be a fun time. The New Beverly is located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036 (2 blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is easy to find - Formosa is your best bet, usually (just watch the signs on the other side streets as some of them are permit only). Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online at BrownPaperTickets. I'll have some DVDs to hand out for dumb trivia questions, and usually there's a guy dressed as Jason in the crowd so have your cameras ready! The fun begins at 11:59 pm on Saturday, July 19th - if there's a Q&A it will as always be BEFORE the movie, so get there on time!

And dig the poster by Jacopo Tenani! He's been doing these for a couple of years now but I dare say this is my favorite one that he's done. Some folks have even asked about getting a print copy - if you're interested let me know! With enough demand maybe we can have some printed up for sale. Feel free to post the image on your own site if you want to help pimp the show, but PLEASE credit Jacopo if you do!

*The Cinefamily showed it a couple years ago, but the crowd was typically awful and yelling at the screen the whole time, so I spent half the time rolling my eyes, looking back to tell someone to shut up, or exchanging sighs with my friend. So it doesn't count.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Lake Placid (1999)

JULY 4, 2014

GENRE: COMEDIC, MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I only saw Lake Placid once, during its theatrical run in the summer of 1999. My strongest recollection of the experience was that I had to see it at Chunky's, which was sort of like an Alamo Drafthouse in that you order food (and drink, though I was 2 years away from being able to take advantage) that's brought to you while the movie is on, but instead of a stadium theater it was a regular level one, meaning the waitresses would block your view of the screen as they came and went - I didn't go to it very often. However, our local theater chain had some beef with FOX at the time, so it was Chunky's or nothing for a lot of their mid-level releases (big stuff like Phantom Menace would play, but this, Ravenous, Office Space, etc - all MIA).

I also remember not thinking much of it; like Steve Miner's previous movie (H20) it felt like it was missing a giant chunk of its middle - there's a lot of setup and then a quick finale. Also it seemed strangely deserted; in H20 it at least had some excuse (the camping trip, though given the permission slip aspect I would think there'd be more forgetful kids or ones with strict parents that had to stay behind), but in Placid it's bizarre how rare you see anyone beyond the handful of main characters. I mean, it HAD to have been pitched as "Jaws but with a crocodile!" but there's no "close the beaches" or even an evil human character around - the one guy who was scuba diving in the movie's opening sequence seems to be the only guy who ever wanted to go in the lake. So the rest of the movie is a bunch of folks trying to kill/capture this thing, but WHY? What will be prevented?

But while it doesn't quite work as a monster movie (though Miner thankfully used an animatronic croc for the most part, keeping CGI to a minimum), it's a solid character comedy, courtesy of a script by (of all people) David E. Kelley. Anti-spoiler ahead - none of our four leads get killed, which is great as it allows for a minor, not too generic romance to blossom between Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda (who seriously needs to return to movies - she's too damn beautiful and charming to waste), as well as a lot of fun antagonistic banter between Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson. Some of it is clearly inspired by Quint/Hooper, but it doesn't matter - I would happily watch a TV show of the two of these guys as mismatched partners (Ryan from Shock suggested one where they investigate cryptozoological happenings - SOLD!). It's legitimately sweet when Gleeson is the first to dive into the water to save Platt when he's in danger during the climax, considering how much they hated each other in the earlier parts of the movie.

Back to Jaws, another thing that works in the movie's favor is how they split the three character types (Brody, Hooper, Quint) among four people, making it seem less like a ripoff. There's a bit of Brody in both Pullman and Gleeson, there's a bit of Hooper in Platt and Fonda, and Quint's stuff is split between Platt and Gleeson. So not only do they seem less generic, it also makes it harder to guess who will die - if I hadn't spoiled it (sorry) you'd spend the entire movie thinking that either Platt or Gleeson would die for sure, but which one? So you get slightly more suspense than you do from the average Syfy monster movie (a sub-genre which, somewhat ironically, now includes three sequels to this), but also a full quartet of people you genuinely like in an era where making even ONE likable protagonist seemed to be too hard for some filmmakers.

And that brings me to my main criticism - why is this an R rated movie? There's a nice gore bit on that first kill, but the second (there are only two human deaths, though the croc takes a few animals down) is played almost as a ZAZ type gag, and probably wouldn't have gotten the movie an R on its own. Instead, the bulk of the R rating comes from F-bombs, but in this kind of movie (and with these kind of characters) they're not "necessary" for lack of a better word. Many of them are played for shock value, courtesy of Betty White - at the time (1999) it wasn't a cliche to have her show up and say naughty things, so I guess it's fine. Still, if you were sorting your monster movies, you would expect to see this movie alongside the tonally similar (but PG-13) Tremors and Arachnophobia - not other R rated monster flicks like Deep Blue Sea and The Relic.

But while the breezy tone and engaging characters make up for the lack of action, I can't quite forgive the repetition of the plot - the movie is basically our heroes going out into the water, having a death-free encounter, regrouping, then going back out with a new tracker toy or weapon and repeating the cycle. Again since there's no one in the damn water besides these people, it makes the movie feel stakes-free, something that could have been prevented if they changed the scenery or didn't go out in the water so quickly into the narrative (and/or stayed there once they did). Granted, Kelley isn't exactly the first guy you'd think of to plot a horror film, but Miner's been around long enough to know better.

However it wouldn't have three sequels without its fans, and despite only being half as old as their usual fare, Scream Factory has put together a pretty nice special edition for the movie's Blu-ray debut. There's no commentary, but they got Miner (and Pullman, and some other crew folk) to contribute new interviews for a fun 30 minute retrospective. Miner wouldn't contribute to any of the newer Friday the 13th retrospectives, so getting him is a nice little bonus, and editor Marshall Harvey is always fun to listen to. Then there's a (VHS?) collection of behind the scenes footage from working with the animatronic croc, a vintage featurette, and the usual trailers and TV spots, including one where a critic claims it's "This year's Anaconda!" (apparently in 1999 this would be considered a rave?). The transfer is fine; nothing that will blow your mind, but not over-DNR'd like some other Fox releases, and respectable color/detail.

At 82 minutes and without any memorable deaths (this was released only a couple weeks before Deep Blue Sea, which contains the greatest Sam Jackson exit in history - and there are a lot to choose from), Lake Placid doesn't really have much weight to it - it's not BAD at all, but it just doesn't give you much to chew on (pun acknowledged and apologized for). Fans of it will be happy with this release, but it's hard to justify a blind buy for a movie you probably won't revisit. I'd say rent it but you guys killed the idea of video stores, so I dunno what to tell you. Maybe if Scream can get a hold of the Buffy movie (also never properly respected on disc) they can do a "FOX horror/comedy double feature" release that will be more enticing at a cost?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

JULY 3, 2014

GENRE: POSSESSION
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

My well documented love for Armageddon aside, there is no question that Jerry Bruckheimer's solo work on the whole pales next to the films he made with the late Don Simpson - it's kind of funny that one of the best post-Simpson films is Enemy of the State, which still listed him as a producer (I assume it was developed before his passing). Sure, he had some big hits with the Pirates series and the two (sigh, where's 3?) National Treasure movies, but for every one of those there's a couple of Bad Companys or Kangaroo Jacks. So it wasn't his name that drew me to Deliver Us From Evil, though it did add some curiosity since this would be his first genre film since 1982's Cat People* remake.

No, it was Scott Derrickson's role as writer/director that had me excited, as he was behind one of my favorite horror flicks of 2012 (Sinister) as well as 2005's The Exorcism Of Emily Rose - for my money one of the best of its type (basically #2 to Exorcist, if memory serves, though I certainly have tons of fun with the gonzo 70s ripoffs). Deliver would have him returning to the exorcism genre, but rather than a standard "this girl is possessed and after we've exhausted all medical/scientific possibilities let's call a priest" structure it would take the form of a Se7en style police thriller, with Eric Bana playing Ralph Sarchie, a real life cop with a penchant for paranormal-tinged cases.

So on paper it sounds like a home run, right? You get a horror guy doing what he does best working with Bruckheimer, who can bring the resources for a summer blockbuster about cops, right? But the thing is, the movie wasn't meant to open on the vaunted July 4th weekend - it was originally set for January (which would have our expectations in the toilet), only for Sony to get confident in the film and bump it up 6 months. I assume it was last summer's smash success of The Conjuring that gave them the idea - another R rated movie with "based on a true story" flair, from a director coming off a very profitable Jason Blum production (Wan with Insidious, Derrickson with Sinister). Therefore it's best to keep the "summer" part of your expectations in check - this is NOT a big budget, End of Days style megamovie that blends the action and horror genres. In fact there's almost zero Bruckheimer influence on display at all - Bana has worked with him before (in Black Hawk Down), but otherwise it doesn't display any of his input. The Christopher Young score is in line with his other genre offerings, not a Hans Zimmer-y presentation of bombast, and humor is kept to a minimum (that it's one of Brucky's rare R rated offerings should have tipped you to that - there's some really grim stuff here).

Once I realized that the Bruckheimer machine didn't overpower Derrickson's (and Paul Boardman's) script, I settled into the movie a lot easier (hey, I don't get out much these days - I was kind of HOPING for dumb action stuff mixed into the horror! Instead it starts with a dead baby about the same size as the one I was leaving for a few hours). As I said earlier, it's sort of like a possession-tinged Se7en, with our two hero cops (Bana's partner is played by Joel McHale, from the only thing I love on the same level as Armageddon) chasing a villain through their rainy city (it's set in New York but the level of rain seems more Seattle-y to me). But it's not a serial killer they're after; one night they get two seemingly unrelated calls (a domestic disturbance and a freak "accident" at the zoo) and discover that they are connected. As they track down leads and uncover an incident that occurred in Abu Dhabi (seen, briefly, in the film's prologue), it becomes clear that they're dealing with something supernatural.

Enter Édgar Ramírez as Father Mendoza, who knew one of the victims and seems to know more about what's going on than the cops. Here I was reminded of the show Grimm - we have our hero but two partners (on Grimm, which I gave up watching after a few episodes, he's got his cop partner and his werewolf partner), crowding the plot a bit and diffusing some of its buddy movie spirit (which was working quite well, with McHale busting the more serious Bana's balls but also proving to be an able fighter). I love the guy, but he could have been removed from the movie entirely or as a shock kill 20 minutes in - indeed, McHale more or less exits the movie for what seems like 40 minutes once Sarchie and Mendoza begin their alliance, only to return for a sequence where Mendoza is sitting out in a car the whole time. Also, I don't think McHale's character actually has a conversation with Mendoza, but then again no one really does. If I didn't know better I'd swear Mendoza was meant to be a ghost or imaginary character, as he bizarrely never really interacts with anyone else in the cast, despite being such a prominent part of it. There's a scene late in the film where Bana makes a phone call for backup without identifying who he called - I assumed it was Mendoza, but it's actually just two other cops that share his desk area (these two seemed like they were more significant characters at one point, but they're largely just blurry dudes in the background behind Bana).

The movie's real strength stems from its setpieces - I realized as I sat down for the movie that the trailers never really explained what the movie was about, instead offering up giant chunks from a few individual scenes (including the climactic exorcism), which was probably the right call. The investigation isn't really a mystery - it only takes about a half hour or so for Sarchie to figure out who the bad guy is, with the rest of the movie devoted to trying to find him as Mendoza convinces Sarchie about the possession part of the deal (as is typical, Sarchie doesn't believe in God and this sort of stuff and thus needs convincing). So if the trailers showed any of it there wouldn't be much to invest the audience in - best to leave that for our discovery (the reviewer says after explaining a big chunk of it - sorry) and just focus on cool/creepy stuff like self-rolling owls and a possessed dude making windows break all around him and such. Luckily the trailer didn't spoil the obligatory cat scare - it's actually one of the best in ages (oddly End of Days' one worked too - what is it about New York set action/horror films?).

Another thing the trailer thankfully avoided was how a part of the plot involves The Doors, as it would have kept me from seeing it until Blu-ray, where I could mute it. I know they have their fans and were a big infuence on later rock acts, but my GOD do I hate this band (I once stated that I didn't know what the word "pretentious" meant until I saw the Stone biopic). "Break On Through" is OK I guess, but all of their other songs just grate me on a level I usually reserve for pop garbage like Black Eyed Peas - so when one of the possessed folks started rattling off lyrics (think "Connect the cuts" from Devil Inside), and Sarchie began hearing one of their songs when no one else could (that must be what true hell feels like - no one to share the misery of "People Are Strange"), I just sighed heavily. I mean, using ANY rock song as a clue is kind of hokey (see: "All Along The Watchtower" in Battlestar Galactica), but when it's these assholes... sorry, movie, you lost me for a bit.

But overall I enjoyed it; I wish the mystery was a bit more drawn out and/or things escalated to something more unnerving (the possessed guy kidnaps Sarchie's family and we're supposed to think they might be dead, but come on), but it had several terrific setpieces, three charismatic actors in the lead roles, and an attempt at blending two sub-genres that you rarely see together. I also got to thinking - 90% of the "first time I watched Exorcist" stories are from people who saw it at a very young age and it left a deep, scarring impression on them - which can make exorcism/possession movies they see as adults harder to appreciate. I, however, didn't see it until I was 19, and so while I understood and appreciated its power, it didn't really scare me all that much, so there's less of a hurdle for other possession movies to clear. I think it's easy to dismiss all of these as "Nowhere near as good as Exorcist!" when the movie warped your impressionable mind (indeed, it may be why I can be so harsh on haunted house movies, as I saw Poltergeist at such a young age), so keep that in mind when you're reading outright pans of this one. It's not perfect, but it's a solid bit of entertainment and (obviously) a nice alternative to everything else out there right now (not a single building destroyed!). And it makes me sad that we're going to lose Derrickson for a few years while he plays in the big Marvel box - there aren't too many horror directors that are committed to grim/disturbing fare for our multiplexes. Hopefully he comes back - long as he leaves The Doors behind.

What say you?

*Cat People also featured a zoo, which is a funny bit of trivia, as one of Deliver's highlights is a scene set in the Bronx Zoo - the first film to shoot there since Altered States, from what I understand.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Monkey's Paw (2013)

JUNE 16, 2014

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

The hardest thing for me to wrap my head around when I see an adaptation of a famous story (particularly one that's been spoofed) is that it exists in a world where that's not a story. Dracula is probably the easiest example to make - more than likely, any non-comedic Dracula film will take place in a world where there aren't 3000 Dracula movies (perhaps even any vampire movies/novels/TV shows/etc at all), so you have to remember that the name "Dracula" has a very different meaning to the characters than it does to us. To a lesser but still similar extent, for The Monkey's Paw to work, you have to remember that the characters aren't already aware that these things are no good and should never be activated, because what you wish for will come with deadly consequences.

But the genius thing about this version is that one character IS aware of this trickery, as it's sort of a sequel to the original story. If you've never read it, the basic gist is that a guy wishes for his house payment, which comes in the form of an insurance check stemming from the death of his son. The 2nd wish is for the dead man to come back, and I refuse to spoil it further for you. But I will say that the character played by Daniel Hugh Kelly more or less plays the younger brother of that dead man, and knows that it's not something to be tampered with. So how does anything happen in the movie? Well, he gets a bit drunk after being laid off from his job, and while he's still kind of foreboding about it, he hands it over to one of his former co-workers. And that's where the fun begins, as he makes his first wish for a new car, and said new car gets his friend (Stephen Lang) killed. Guess what wish #2 is?

What's great is that all of this is the first 20, 25 minutes of the film, allowing the rest of it to play out as a revenge film of sorts; Lang's resurrection follows Pet Sematary rules and thus he comes back as a killer, forcing hero Jake (C.J. Thomason) to try to keep his loved ones safe while avoiding the cops, who suspect him of the murders Lang is committing (such as the husband of Jake's ex). But the cool thing is that Lang has a decent motive for what he's doing: he wants Jake to use up the 3rd wish to help him reunite with his estranged son, whom he is not allowed near due to a restraining order. Jake knows that the wish will backfire in some way, but Lang won't listen to reason, and there's the movie - the paw is just the means of getting the plot started, with wishes and curses left more or less in the background for a while. Indeed, Jake tosses the thing away early on and doesn't retrieve it until near the end, which also helped me forget that none of these people are aware of how these things always work.

Another thing that impressed me was that it, like Dead Souls, was a cable movie (for Chiller) that didn't follow the "rule" that states something exciting or cliffhanger-y needs to happen before every commercial break to keep people from changing the channel. If not for a few fadeouts, you'd probably never even know this was made for TV - it gives the characters and story time to breathe, doesn't toss in random kills for no reason, etc. I know saying "it plays like a real movie" is a weird thing to say, but it's sadly the exception, not the rule, for this sort of fare. Any Syfy monster movie will cut to an anonymous person being munched/stomped if it's time for a commercial, which might be fine for when you're actually watching it live - but it makes for a thoroughly obnoxious experience when watching on DVD. Not the case here; we stick with our core group of 6-7 characters throughout, and know the names of every person Lang kills.

Oh, and it's shot in New Orleans but doesn't dwell on the usual locales. The French Quarter makes a brief appearance, of course, but otherwise it sticks to the outskirts and not as cinematically overused areas in the city (such as Louis Armstrong Park), and focuses on blue collar types that the audience can more likely relate to. The economic hardships in the area play a part, but that sort of stuff isn't the main focus - like the paw itself, it paves the way to the real story, but doesn't take center stage. Director Brett Simmons (who previously impressed with Husk) and screenwriter Macon Blair (currently seen in the terrific Blue Ruin) seem to have understood that we've seen that stuff in a dozen other movies recently, so they do their best to stick to something less cliche and more interesting. Sure, if you were to write a 2 line synopsis it would sound like a typical "Back from the dead to seek revenge" type movie, but by grounding it in things we can sympathize with (the guy just wants to see his kid!) and keeping the supernatural elements to a minimum*, it ended up being far more compelling than I expected.

As this is a Scream Factory release, we get some extras - the trailer and a brief making of aren't anything special, but the commentary by Simmons, Thomason, and DP Scott Winig is pretty entertaining and very much worth a listen. They heap praise on the actors (Lang in particular), discuss the challenges of shooting in the area and within their budget (more than one location was "stolen"), and generally just have a good time - there isn't as much ball-busting as you often hear when there are 3 guys on a track together, but I still found it more enjoyable than average (discussion of Lang's method acting style has a great payoff when after 3-4 real examples they claim he really cut off an actor's head). It's a shame we don't hear from Blair, however - it's his sole feature writing credit and I'm curious if he planned to star in it himself at any point.

I recently lost the Chiller channel when I downgraded my cable package (I wanted to reduce it even further but alas), which is a shame if they're going to be making movies as solid as this. It's not gonna make my top 10 list or anything (actually, maybe it MIGHT since I barely get to see anything these days!), but when stacked against whatever shitty end of the world or shark movie was airing on Syfy at the same time, it's a minor classic. It's got some good actors running through a story that held my attention, a few nasty kills for good measure, and it found a way to make an oft-used story compelling once again - that's a success in my book. Hopefully Scream continues to release their films on disc for those who couldn't catch them on cable - they might look a little misplaced in their line (alongside Sleepaway Camp and Evilspeak, two of their other recent releases that baby-land has kept me from reviewing), but I'm glad that they get that extra bit of exposure, unlike the Syfy films which Anchor Bay often releases to zero fanfare alongside their (of late, often terrible) independent pickups.

What say you?

*There's even a hint that the paw is just junk and that NOTHING supernatural actually happened - I almost wish they went full force with it, but then the movie probably wouldn't have gotten made.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dracula (1974)

MAY 26, 2014

GENRE: TELEVISION, VAMPIRE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Now that my child is here*, I just have to count the 7-8 years' worth of days until he's old enough to watch horror movies with his old man, giving me a lot of time to think about what I'll show him and when. One thing I definitely want to do is make sure he sees stuff "in order", so that when he sees this pretty good adaptation of Dracula, it will be BEFORE he sees all of the movies (including Coppola's) that ripped off one of its new ideas: retrofitting Lucy (or Mina) into a reincarnation of Dracula's long lost love.

Indeed, since Coppola's film was one of (possibly THE) first one I saw adapted from Stoker's novel, I had assumed it was part of the story until I actually read it in college (especially when obvious inspirations, like Vampire in Brooklyn, carried over this concept). But unless my research has failed me, the idea started with this 1973 film from Dan Curtis, who was basically melding his own Dark Shadows ideas with the source material (way to branch out, buddy!). Coppola also ripped off the Vlad the Impaler idea, so for a TV movie that's premiere got preempted by a real world event (Spiro Agnew resigning), it's had remarkable impact on the undying, always strangely plotted story of a young man who travels to Transylvania and proceeds to disappear within the narrative.

Harker's even more backgrounded than usual here; Arthur Holmwood takes on the bulk of his role (including joining Van Helsing for the final battle), leaving Harker an afterthought before the halfway point. They also skip the Demeter almost entirely, opting for a "5 weeks later" title card and a single shot of the beached ship, so the already clunky shifting of protagonists is even more of an issue as Harker just all but disappears as a result (he briefly returns as a vampire). A voiceover only briefly explains the Demeter's significance ("No one on board", etc), but since I, like probably everyone (maybe even my son - I think I'll start with the Langella/Badham, if not the original Lugosi/Browning) has seen multiple Dracula movies, my mind filled in the blanks and kind of just went with it. Sort of like when you're watching one of the Harry Potter movies and mentally filling in the little side stories and character beats that weren't actually in the film.

Otherwise (and again, this is an issue stemming from the book; it's an ensemble piece where only 1/3 of the characters are worthy of the limelight) this one's pretty good. Maybe a bit TOO straightforward at times, but having just rewatched Nosferatu (Herzog version), I appreciated that element - I don't DISLIKE that film but I have to be in a certain mood to watch a bunch of folks walking around endlessly and what not. Jack Palance also made for a fine Count; I quite loved him in the "human" scenes (i.e. talking to Harker about Carfax), as he brought a fine weariness to it without being all creepy or weird. Another thing about Nosferatu - the makeup is awesome but Harker is way too OK with this bat-ghoul thing talking to him, so it's nice to see this scene play out sans distraction.

The rest of the cast was solid as well. Penelope Horner made for a fetching Mina, and I liked that Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing looked more like a gruff constable than a proper gent like Cushing (or kook like Hopkins). Curtis didn't rope in any of his Shadows stars (at least, none that I'm aware of), so even though he's borrowing some of Barnabas' character beats, I didn't think about that show too much. If anything I was more reminded of Hammer films - their style (sets, colors, lighting, etc) were clearly an inspiration on Curtis here, and since Hammer was kind of floundering at this point it's kind of funny that another group entirely was making something more up to their standards.

MPI released the film on Blu for the first time this week, offering a new transfer that is quite good - it's either funny or sad to see a television production given better treatment than some megabudget Hollywood films (I have a pristine 2K transfer of this but I'm stuck with a non-anamorphic DVD of The Abyss?). There are a few extras as well, obviously from a previous release as both Jack Palance and Dan Curtis both died in 2006, but their interviews are enjoyable all the same. Palance talks about his hesitance to take the role and how he approached it; it's a little dry but it's rare to see this sort of thing with the Oscar winner (though it does seem to be cribbed from a longer, career-spanning interview. Curtis' interview is even shorter but more thorough - he mutters about being ripped off by Coppola and keeps trashing it (when he comments about werewolves, it seems he's just taking another shot at the 1992 film's transformations), so it's pretty amusing. A collection of outtakes and, hilariously, a bunch of TV edits are offered as well (I had to laugh in the latter's case since NBC's Hannibal season finale just topped most R rated fare in the blood department), along with the trailer. The film's subtitles are also a bonus feature of a sort; I had them on frequently (volume low so as not to wake the baby when applicable - this took a few sittings to watch, obviously) and I was consistently delighted that the score was described. "Eerie music" "Sad, romantic music", etc. It's a good score, I should mention - it's even advertised at the end of the movie, rare for a television production.

On that note, I assume this was a theatrical release in some territories; honestly it could have played in theaters here too - it's a bit workmanlike, but again, sometimes it's nice to see a Dracula movie that's just "Dracula", not Dracula in space, Dracula in New York, Dracula turns into a CGI Mantis, etc. And I've never shined much to Curtis' body of work, so I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.

What say you?

*I know I said I wouldn't be reviewing anything here for a while, but for some reason I thought this Dracula was from 1979 and planned to do a piece on Badass about all four of that year's Drac films (the Langella, Love at First Bite, and Herzog's Nosferatu being the others), but since this was 1974 that wouldn't work. So that piece (minus this one) will go up as the next Crypt, and you guys get a bonus review after all! Everyone wins very little.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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